Life and times of a river and its people

Life and times of a river and its people

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Yamuna at its best state – in Jagatpur village near Delhi

That Yamuna looks like a river – unlike the filthy drain – upstream of Wazirabad was known to many of the Yamuna Katha yatris. But no one – except of course Chhotu Khan and Rashid Khan – was ready for the sight at Jagatpur, a small prosperous village in north Delhi on Thursday morning.

Vast swathe of fertile alluvial soil with taller-than-human weeds, a dusty winding road from the bund road leading to the water front and then … water sans garbage, sans plastic waste, literally free from all kinds of pollution. “I just can’t believe we are in Delhi on the Yamuna bank,” said an excited Arun Raj, who works with Force, an NGO working on water.  
Arun, a passenger with the core group who joined for the day, had read about the history of the river and its connection with the city. “Delhi has remained just as a fragment of the glorious history,” he said.

Jagatpur river front visit became an important fragment for the Yamuna Katha yatris. The group members thrilled to find the company of none other than a female elephant Rupa. Almost everybody spent time in observing the elephant, clicking photographs, asking the mahavat about Rupa’s habit.

Elephant Rupe carrying passengers Claudia and Ellen
(photo: Alex Köcher)

Apart from the major attraction of the beautiful unlike-in-Delhi Yamuna, the riverfront offered other attractions and photo opportunities too. A bunch of fishermen were readying for embarking on a fishing journey up stream of the Yamuna; a tractor and its trolley were brought for washing; minutes later, another tractor-trolley brought a newly painted boat to be deployed in waters and last but not the least – and what a sight it was – a herd of buffaloes gently entering the river and swiftly swimming across to the riverine island.

Local fishermen embarking to bring in fresh fish (photo: Alex: Koecher) 

That was a moment which everyone enjoyed what with the buffaloes actually posing for the shutterbugs and the buffalo owners with bright coloured turbans doling out sound bytes for the camera team. “I had always been disheartened with the state of Yamuna. Never had I imagined, Yamuna bank in Delhi would be so much fun,” said Urmi Chakraborty, a core team member and a geography teacher passionate about rivers.

Buffalos longing for a bath (photo: Alex Koecher)

After more than two hours of fun, the Yamuna Katha team mates moved on to the next stop: the Ramghat, just north of Wazirabad village. The ghat (stepped embankment), is actually a cluster of temples, old and new. A large area is semi-circles with temples on the river side with space for parking vehicles on one side and a number of small kuchcha structures/tea kiosks for selling pooja material and other items lining the other side.

The water front resembled a ghat in any of the rural riverfronts. The ghats, replete with temples, shiv lingas (Lord Shiva’s manifest symbol) jutting right in the middle of the ghat, idle row boats resting by the bank and the omnipresent garbage in the form of flower waste from pooja remains, wooden planks and even refuse by way of some plaster of Paris statues. No, it again did not seem like Delhi. But Delhi it was.

Ramghat (photo: Alex Koecher)

After a round of hot tea from one of the kiosks, team members dispersed to explore the bank on their own. In small huddles, the passengers and the core group members exchanged ideas and keenly debated various issues. But the common thread that was emerging – and was very evident as the time passed by – was that each one of the team was equally concerned about the Yamuna.

Core group members Gayatrie and Rasheed discussing over tea
(photo: Alex Koecher)

A delicious lunch followed by rest as the sun peaked right above in the blue October sky, and the team was ready for the next adventure. Golden Jubilee Park by the riverfront right in front of the historical Red Fort and the Salimgarh Fort was the next destination.
The sprawling park does offer a good site along the Yamuna bank with the Loha Pul (the old iron bridge) in the background completing the picture frame. However, the place had a gory history … in the immediate past. Dwijender Kalia, the in house river expert from the core members’ team reminded: “In 2006, almost a lakh people were thrown out from the slums that occupied this very place then known as Jamuna Pushta. The displaced were thrown away from the main stream yet again as they were offered rehabilitation at Bawana and such far flung places.”

Discussion in the open at Golden Jubilee Park (photo: Alex Koecher)

With this note, started the discussion about ‘Moving a Juggernaut called Delhi’. Manu Bhatnagar, water conservationist and an active academic expert associated with conservation NGO Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) initiated and moderated the discussion. The group was joined by GIZ guests and a German elected representative Marie Luise von Halem, member of one of the state parliaments in Germany. The discussion ranged from water pollution, reasons for it, the reduced flow of water in the Yamuna, what does Yamuna offer to a city, what do people identify and understand with the city, the very definition of city, the approach of the planners and policy makers etc.

But one remark from Sadhuram, a rustic farmer tilling land near the Park, garnered the most appreciation. “They have shrunk the river. Upar wale ko nahi, apane aap ko bada maanate hai woh. (They think they are bigger than the Lord Almighty),” the simpleton said in a matter-of-fact tone.

Towards the end, the Yamuna Katha team was joined by an activist working for another river. Atul Jain, a passenger who had joined the team on day one, came calling in on day two too and brought along Anil Madhav Dave, a Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) and an activist who runs an NGO called Narmada Samagra, which works in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat along the Narmada river.  

Dave, also a member Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources, said a human being thinks about the river as if his or her efforts are going to “save” the river. “We think the river as water body and not a living eco-system. The moment we think it as a body, we think of reviving it, saving it et al. But tell me, what can a human with a life span of hardly 70-80 years do for a river which is flowing since ages? The idea is to ‘serve’ the river and not brag about saving it.”

The discussion ended on a note of optimism that each one in his or her capacity should continue its efforts for the river and work towards increasing the tribe.
The last item on the agenda, before returning to the hotel, was looked forward and enjoyed the most by every single member of the team. Kite flying opened up each other and brought in moments of sheer joy for all.         

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